The Art of the Informational Interview: Ten Commandments for Job Seekers in 2017

I originally wrote this blog post shortly after completing my own job search in 2011. Based on some great feedback I received and some recent informational interviews I’ve done, I decided to update the tips for 2017. 

You graduated from college. You polished up your résumé (and shoes) and check the want ads every morning. So why haven’t you landed your dream job yet?

I know how tough the job market can be. Since going through my own search in 2011, I’ve met with more than 100 recent college graduates looking to break into our industry. Along the way, I’ve learned some important lessons — simple tips for job seekers to help ensure that you’re always making the best possible case for yourself.

Let’s call them the “Ten Commandments” for Job Seekers in 2017.

1 Get on LinkedIn. Now.

It may not look exciting when you first log on, but trust me: LinkedIn can be one of your most powerful allies during a job search. Create a profile that you can be proud of and make sure to highlight your skills and accomplishments at previous jobs and internships. Upload a headshot and ask your old boss to write you a recommendation. Give hiring managers who look at your profile a reason to call you.

2 Use it (LinkedIn).

Before every interview, look up every person you’ll be meeting with on LinkedIn (and on Google and other social media platforms). Check out where they came from, where they went to school, and where they got their start. Determine if you know anyone in common. If so, contact that person, ask for advice, and explore whether he’d be willing to put in a good word for you. After every interview (especially informational interviews), connect with the interviewer on LinkedIn.

3 Clean up your act (online).

Fact: Your future employer will search for you on Google, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn (at least). Get there first and make sure you like what you see. It’s time to take down the photo of you doing a body shot and clean up your Twitter feed to make sure it appears professional. This should be a no-brainer in 2017, but I’ve seen far too many violators in the last couple of years.

4 Don’t let your résumé ruin your interview.

Countless websites exist online to help you craft a killer résumé, so I won’t try to reinvent their genius. But I will share with you the best piece of advice I’ve been given: Treat your résumé as if it were the talking points for your interview (often it will be). That means: keep it clean (use bullets; make it a PDF), keep it to one page, and put the greatest weight on the parts of your life and experience that you want to focus on. If you dedicate five lines of text on your resume to your summer camp job, guess what you’re going to be talking about?

5 Get out of your house.

You will never meet a bigger proponent of informational interviews than me. Informational interviews are how I got my current job, and I will never turn down a request for one from a job seeker. So go out and request meetings with everyone you know, beginning with people in your desired field. Not only will it help get your name out there, it will also help you to hone your skills as an interviewee. Treat your job search like it’s your job.

6 Don’t get frustrated by dead ends.

During my job search, I requested more than 70 informational interviews, but only heard back from 50 of those individuals, and ended up meeting with just 35. All 35 promised they’d help in some way — some did; some didn’t. It’s a numbers game — you’ll never get anywhere if you pin your hopes to one or two (or ten) contacts. I learned about my current job through a seventh-degree informational interview connection (no joke: an acquaintance of a colleague of an employee of a classmate of a husband of a friend of my brother-in-law).

7 Give people a clear sense of how they can help.

People want to help you, but they have limited time and attention. So make it clear what each person can do to propel your search forward. (Would you share the names of three other people I should speak with? What are the skills/attributes you’re looking for in a new employee? Would you keep me posted about any job opportunities within your organization?) Also, make it clear what kind of job you’re actually looking for. The more specific you are, the more likely you’ll come to mind when people hear about an opening.

8 Treat every informational interview like the real thing.

It’s possible that the person you’re meeting with is about to post a new job, or that she might not even know about openings in her own organization. Years ago, I did an informational interview with a young woman and asked my boss to meet with her as well. After it was over, I learned that my boss was actually looking to hire, but wasn’t considering her because he “didn’t get the sense she wanted to work here.” I will never forget that. Also, please don’t forget to research the organization in advance by exploring its website and social networks. Arrive prepared with more questions than you can possibly use. (That’s critical for real interviews as well.)

9 Dust off the stationery.

The minute you get home from an informational interview, write a paper thank-you note to every person you met with. Thank-you notes are a lost art, which makes them more and more valuable every year. You can also write a thank-you over email or attached to your LinkedIn invite, but those should never substitute for a handwritten note. Don’t forget to thank each contact for the specific action steps she agreed to take on your behalf.

10 Build your own social network.

Don’t let the thank-you note be the last time you communicate with your contacts. Keep them updated on your progress, especially if one of their recommendations helped you in a specific way (e.g., resulted in a real interview). After you land your dream job, make sure to thank every person you met with personally and let each one know where you’ll be. Chances are, you’ll run into many of these folks professionally in the future.

The job search can be a demoralizing process, especially in a down economy. These tips will strengthen your job prospects and help you build a professional network that will last for decades to come.

Hopefully, it won’t be long before you’re paying it forward and inviting a job seeker into your own office for an informational interview.

Until then, let me know if you want to set up a time to talk!